Adam couldn’t remember when last he’d felt so on edge. The room was filled with Ibrahim Khan’s closest friends and allies, none of whom seemed too impressed by him. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being sized up and found wanting.
It was a familiar feeling. He’d been paraded around like this for months after Ali had adopted him. Just like then, the interest today was anything but innocent. Adam knew quite well that every single person in the room was loyal to the Khans. One wrong move and he’d have an army ready to take him down.
His stepfather had been right. This mess was worse than all the others combined.
As though thinking about him had summoned the man, Ali came into view just then. His stepfather was as on edge as Adam had ever seen him. His jaw was clenched and he held himself stiffly, standing half in front of Adam’s mother as though to shield her.
Adam headed towards them immediately, not even bothering to excuse himself from whoever it was Khan had just been trying to introduce him to. Earlier in the day, he’d resented their absence but now that he saw them, saw his mother in a room filled with hostile killers, he wished Ali had kept to his word and stayed away.
“I thought you weren’t going to make it?”
Adam’s mother frowned from behind her husband. “Don’t be ridiculous, Adam. Of course we weren’t going to miss your wedding day.”
“I was overruled.” Ali looked around the room. “And I maintain that I was right. I’m not happy with you being here, Lina.”
Adam’s mother ignored this. “Where’s Iman? I can’t wait to meet her.”
Adam had no idea where his bride was. She’d been whisked away the second they’d finished signing their names and he hadn’t seen her since.
“I think she’s upstairs,” he said uncertainly.
“Iman will be down in a few minutes, I’m sure.” Khan put an arm on Adam’s back and he tensed. How did such an old man move so quietly? If he didn’t know better, he’d think the man was doing it just to make him jump.
There was an awkward pause. Adam’s mother cleared her throat. “I don’t think we’ve met.” She extended a hand. “I’m Lina Cassim, Adam’s mother and this,” she indicated Ali, “is his father.”
Khan took it. “I am Iman’s grandfather, Ibrahim. A pleasure to meet you. Please excuse me, I need to see where Iman has got to.” He disappeared up the stairs.
“Lost your bride?” Ali asked sardonically.
“Not much of a loss.”
Lina smacked his arm. “Ali!” she said sharply. “Honestly, I don’t know what’s gotten into you these past few days.”
“I’m not going to pretend to condone this nonsense.” Ali turned his attention to Adam. “Look after your mother.” With that, he stalked off. Adam could see him already pulling out his lighter.
Lina stared after her husband. “Where is he going?” she asked, baffled.
Adam’s mother sighed. “Of course,” she said ruefully. “I don’t suppose you want to introduce me to some of these people?”
Adam grimaced. He could just imagine how terribly that would go. Lina was a friendly woman by nature and not even years of being married to a mercenary had taught her reticence. She’d be giving away sensitive information before he could blink.
She misread his hesitation and sighed. “You know, one day, you’re going to stop being ashamed of me.”
“Mom!” Adam looked down at her wide-eyed. “I’m not ashamed of you!” How could he be? His mother was warm and sweet. He wasn’t ashamed of her, he was scared for her. She couldn’t hold her own here, amongst a crowd that prized being sharp and deadly. They’d tear her to shreds.
It was useless trying to explain this to Lina, however. She clung to the illusion that people were nice and kind, just as she was. If he told her to be wary, she’d scold him for being paranoid and rude.
“You just don’t want anyone to know about me.”
Adam winced. She was right, but she had the reasoning all wrong. He sighed. “Mom, I don’t know them myself.”
She tilted her head, distracted. “Have you been being antisocial again?”
Adam laughed. “Yeah, Mom. That’s exactly it.”
“Oh, honey, you need to be more social. How many times have I told you, you need to make an effort with people!”
“I know, Mom.”
“Remember when you were younger? You only had Kat as a friend because you just wouldn’t be nice to the other kids when they tried to make friends with you? That was so hard on you. I don’t want that happening again.”
Adam chose not to mention that the ‘other kids’ had been looking for information about both him and her to use against them as her husband had trained them to. Much like this crowd would, if given half a chance.
“I’m fine, Mom. Where is Kat, anyway?” At first he’d assumed that she hadn’t been able to get away from Ali but his stepfather was here. And Kat had promised to come.
Lina bit her lip. “I asked her not to come,” she admitted.
“What? Why would you do that?” Adam was puzzled. His mother liked Kat almost as much as she liked him.
Lina looked pained. “Honey,” she said in a low voice. “It’s a little inappropriate.”
“What? Inappropriate how?”
His mother made an impatient noise. “Kat is a beautiful young woman,” she said pointedly.
Adam looked at the crowd. “You think she would have been hassled? She can take care of herself, Mom.”
“I think,” Lina said delicately. “That Iman might not like it.”
Adam was appalled. “You can’t be serious?”
Lina didn’t budge.
“Mom, it’s Kat! I’ve known her for almost a decade.”
“Still, honey. Women feel insecure.”
Adam fought the urge to bang his head against the wall. “Mom, it’s not an issue. I have to call Kat.”
He didn’t get the chance. At that moment, everyone’s attention went to the staircase. It seemed Adam’s bride was making her big entrance.
I’ve been getting questions about why I’ve been so AWOL lately so I thought I’d just explain quickly here. My Nani had a fall a little while ago which some of you may know. Yesterday, she moved across the country to where she can be looked after better. Because of this, I’ve been spending time with her the past few days and haven’t had much time to write as a result. Please do make dua for her if you get the chance.